CHANGING THE NORMS: RURAL WOMEN IN SOUTHERN KOSOVO LAUNCH A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE
Red-roofed village houses set in a canopy of trees, tall peaks painted fresh green towering around. Just across the narrow road, a crystal-clear water flowing in a creek, while young women standing next to it wearing traditional dresses greet guests with freshly-baked bread and salt.
Welcome to the village of Sevcë/Sevce in southern Kosovo’s mountainous Shtërpcë/Štrpce municipality, where a gathering of locals and visitors interrupts the usually calm summer days. This is the opening ceremony of the social enterprise “Independent Association of Women - Sevce”’s new processing premises.
In 2016, 40 women from Sevcë/Sevce formed an association to join forces in processing different cultivated fruits as well as aromatic herbs and teas into products such as juices and jams that will reach more markets and attract a wide range of customers. Last year, the association partnered with UNDP and the Austrian Development Agency to modernize production, expand the range of sold items, and transform itself into a social enterprise.
Now, the hard work culminated with one of the most anticipated events of the year, where local residents and guests from afar gather to cut the ribbon and take a tour of the production line, tasting the variety of gastronomic items along the way.
Social enterprises have both business goals and social goals. It is no secret that the labour market and business opportunities in Kosovo, as elsewhere in the Western Balkans, are subject to myriad challenges, and many people, in particular women, face barriers to a thriving career. The statistics are bleak: only 1 in 8 working-age women in Kosovo has a full-time job, 80% are considered inactive in the labour market, and 69% percent of the unemployed women have been unemployed for over a year.
“We know the statistics on unemployment, and we know that women are more vulnerable. That is why this project is so important”, says H.E. Gernot Pfandler, the Austrian Ambassador to Kosovo, while even more locals arrive.
Remote rural areas such as Sevcë/Sevce suffer from such challenges ever more strongly.
A social enterprise's purpose is not only to create income for its members, but mainly to promote, encourage, and make social change. Three weeks ago, the UN and the world marked the International Day of Cooperatives, celebrating initiatives just like this.
By their very nature, social enterprises play a triple role: they create opportunities for jobs, livelihoods and income generation; as enterprises that are focused on people rather than capital, they contribute to social equity and justice; and, finally, as democratic institutions, they are controlled by their members, playing a leading role in society and local communities.
“We know that when we empower women, we empower their society and their families. Empowered women mean that society is progressing”, Ulrika Richardson, the UN Development Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kosovo shares with words of encouragement.
Before viewing a glossy machine where raspberries will be washed and sorted, and a large mixer where they will turn into a tasty dark red juice, Zorica Vuksanović, the head of the association shares the pride of their achievement: “It is at this very moment when a new chapter begins for us. Women from Sevcë/Sevce will have more opportunities in the future. Most of us have never had a job so we are grateful to our partners who believed in us. We will confirm this belief.”
This new processing unit will help the 40 members to produce and sell more, gain new skills, and bring much needed income & jobs to the community. For many of them, it is the first time they will have an opportunity to create income for themselves and their families.
At a time when income inequality is rising around the world, it is good to be reminded that solutions to inequality do exist.
The INTERDEV 2 project, funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation, is a three-year initiative in the south and east part of Kosovo, helping women and men in these rural areas find jobs, be more productive in balance with local biodiversity, and bring more income for their families. More information on the initiative can be found here.